“Egypt is Above All Else”

Written on February 9, 2011 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Africa, Democracy & Human Rights, Middle East, News

Up With Egypt

By Thomas L. Friedman

Just when you think the Egyptian uprising is dying down, more Egyptians than ever waited in long lines on Tuesday to get into Tahrir Square to ask President Hosni Mubarak’s regime to go. One reason the lines get so long is that everyone has to funnel through a single makeshift Egyptian Army checkpoint, which consists of an American-made tank on one side and barbed wire on the other. I can never tell whether that tank is there to protect the protesters or to limit the protesters. And that may be the most important question in Egypt today: Whose side is the army on?

Right now Egypt’s respected army is staying neutral — protecting both Mubarak’s palace and the Tahrir revolutionaries — but it can’t last. This is a people’s army. The generals have to heed where the public is going — and today so many Egyptians voted with their feet to go into Tahrir Square that a friend of mine said: “It was like being on the hajj in Mecca.”

The army could stick by Mubarak, whose only strategy seems to be to buy time and hope that the revolt splinters or peters out. Or the army could realize that what is happening in Tahrir Square is the wave of the future. And, therefore, if it wants to preserve the army’s extensive privileges, it will force Mubarak to go on vacation and establish the army as the guarantor of a peaceful transition to democracy — which would include forming a national unity cabinet that writes a new constitution and eventually holds new elections, once new parties have formed.

I hope it is the latter, and I hope President Obama is pressing the Egyptian Army in this direction — as do many people here. For that to unfold, both the Egyptian Army and the Obama team will have to read what is happening in Tahrir Square through a new lens. Mubarak wants everyone to believe this is Iran 1979 all over, but it just does not feel that way. This uprising feels post-ideological.

The Tahrir Square uprising “has nothing to do with left or right,” said Dina Shehata, a researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “It is about young people rebelling against a regime that has stifled all channels for their upward mobility. They want to shape their own destiny, and they want social justice” from a system in which a few people have gotten fantastically rich, in giant villas, and everyone else has stagnated. Any ideological group that tries to hijack these young people today will lose. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on February 8, 2011 (New York Times – Print Edition. February 9, 2011).


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